started in Memphis during the Stax era. Back then, it seemed like everybody and his brother was on Stax -- the Staple Singers, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Steve Cropper, Booker T., Margie Joseph. Stax had everything going for itself, and Hi Records, where I was, was like the ugly duckling across town.
People would say, "Who is this Al Green?" I was just a little fish in the pond.
I looked up to Sam Cooke, Brook Benton, Jackie Wilson, and Otis Redding, definitely. In never got to meet Otis, but I did get to see his car and I heard half his show once standing behind the Royal Theater in Chicago. I had no money to get in. I was a nobody, a guy who comes over from Grand Rapids to Chicago to see Otis Redding. I hung around the stage door, and it was great. I got to see his red and silver suit. I stood there speechless for an hour thinking, "Wow, this is fabulous."
I never got to meet Sam Cooke either, but he was the artist I most looked up to. It's twenty-three years after his death and it's still hard to comprehend how good Sam Cooke was.
I started writing songs in Grand Rapids. The first song I wrote was something called "What Am I Going to Do with Myself." I moved from Grand Rapids to Detroit and I was staying with the singer, Laura Lee. I wrote "Tired of Being Alone," my first million-seller, because of her. This lady used to leave me all the time. She was the busiest woman I'd ever seen. Always had something to do -- her nails, hair, shopping. Consequently, I was alone a lot, and that's why I wrote that song.
Things changed drastically for me around '73. I'd be onstage doing a concert, singing "I'm Still in Love with You" or "You Ought to Be with Me," and I'd feel the spirit of the Lord. I'd be in Liverpool singing and I'd get that feeling and say, "This is strange."
Then I'd be back in the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, singing "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," and I'm saying to myself, "I don't know the scriptures. I've been to church. I was raised in the choir. I've heard the preacher preach, but I don't know this stuff."
So I was born again in '73, in Anaheim, California. From that moment I knew I couldn't sing "baby baby" anymore.
It took me three years to dissolve contracts, liquidate deals. In '76, we started a tabernacle. A lot of my people found it difficult to stay on the ship. It wasn't a problem for me, but there was a real division with the musicians. On one side there were the guys who preferred hanging out with chicks and smoking pot, and another group of guys who would say, "I believe the guy. He feels like he's been forgiven for his sins. He feels like living a cleaner, purer life. We support him."
Then there were the people in the record industry who said, "I need to get these records out. I got 50,000 to move, OK?"
You see, I made a commitment to do what I'm doing. There are a lot of people who did not make a commitment and now they're no longer with us. We lost Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Jimi Hendrix. I think maybe some of them didn't know where or when to get off. The important thing is to be here. A buck is important, but you need to consider where you come from and what you are doing in order that you may possess your own soul.
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